The Narrative Power in Objects: It has always intrigued me that simple objects should have so much narrative power in good fiction. Almost a transcendent power. T. S. Eliot called an object that conveys, better than description, the emotional content of a character or situation in story an “objective correlative.” But, personally, that term is not down-to-earth enough for me. I prefer Tolkien’s “Tree and Leaf.” In his essay of the same name, he says to the writer, ”understand the (ultimate) power of basic earth objects or elements – and use them.” Fire, a piece of wood, a stream, a stone, a tree, a leaf, the elemental stuff of our world. When I think of Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I think of a ripe peach, an orange, a goldfish man, a moon. Poets know the power in the concrete object, but I say the prose writer, knowing these elements and using them, brings a resonant power and authenticity to narratives of all kinds. When I read Kate Di Camillo’s The Tale of Despereaux, a fantasy, and see how she dances around “soup,” for goodness sakes, I am amazed. The Queen died for loving it. The kingdom was governed by the rules for it! The tiny mouse Despereaux, whose story this is, was brought to his knightship by events caused by it. Soup. And Di Camillo knows this source of power! In loving this element – soup – she uses it sufficiently, repeating it, playing with it, elevating it to the status of character in its own right! She does the same for “the needle” and “red thread.”
Patti in a workshop setting
The new writer is tentative in using objects; the experienced writer knows the absolute power of the object: tree and leaf.